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Nurse 'blamed herself' for royal pregnancy hoax call


A nurse found dead after answering a hoax call for the Duchess of Cambridge during her first pregnancy sent a desperate email to colleagues blaming herself, an inquest heard.

Jacintha Saldanha, 46, was discovered hanged in nursing accommodation days after staff were tricked into telling two Australian radio DJs about the Duchess of Cambridge’s stay at London’s King Edward VII’s Hospital in December 2012.

The Duchess was being treated for acute morning sickness at the time.

“Although they had breached protocol, we felt it was a nasty trick at a ridiculous time of the day”

Caroline Cassells

An inquest in to the mother-of-two’s death heard she believed the prank at around 5.30am was a genuine call from the Queen and transferred it to the nurse looking after the Duchess, who then revealed details of her treatment.

One of the DJs who made the call, Mel Greig, voluntarily attended the inquest at the Royal Courts of Justice.

Dressed in black she sat on the opposite side of the tightly-packed court room from the family and held a pained expression throughout proceedings.

The nurse who disclosed Kate’s condition told the court that Mrs Saldanha emailed her after the prank to express her anguish at the mistake.

The message stated: “It’s all my fault. I feel very bad about this to get you involved. If there was anything I could do to mend this I would do it.”

The email went on: “I’m very upset and don’t know what to do. Things are all going in the wrong direction.”

Mrs Saldanha said she was “terribly sorry” and added: “Please blame me for this. I accept the fault was mine. I should have checked before I gave the call to you.

“I can only say sorry. Please accept my apologies.”

The nurse, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, told the inquest that she believed she would be talking to the Queen because that impression was given to her by Mrs Saldanha.

She said she addressed the caller as “ma’am” and spoke about condition of the Duchess, saying she was “comfortable”.

“I started feeling nervous when the caller talked to a male voice asking about taking the corgis for a walk. This seemed inappropriate for the call,” she said.

“I had never been in this situation before. I wanted to bring it to an end quickly.”

She added: “I thought it was a prank as soon as I heard about the corgis.

The nurse then described what happened when the call ended.

“I replaced the handset and looked directly at Jacintha and said there was something wrong with the phone call, it wasn’t right.”

Mrs Saldanha’s body was found hanging on December 7, 2012 − three days after the hoax.

Dr Fiona Wilcox, Westminster Coroner, denied an application to allow Ms Greig to give evidence in court.

The DJ tweeted on the morning of the hearing: “I have made a commitment to the Saldanha family that I would answer any questions that they have, on or off the stand, and I’m here to uphold that promise.”

The hospital’s matron, Caroline Cassells, said she tried to reassure the nurse that the hospital understood it was a mistake and there had been no mention of disciplinary action.

“Although they had breached protocol, we felt it was a nasty trick at a ridiculous time of the day,” she said.

The matron added: “There was no indication that she wasn’t coping, she was seen as coping.

“As a nurse you have to be able to work under pressure and she thrived off it.”

A dedicated receptionist is now employed to take calls overnight when senior members of the Royal Family are staying at the hospital, the inquest heard.

Mrs Saldanha’s husband broke down in tears as he gave evidence in the witness stand, describing his wife as ambitious and brave.

Benedict Barboza said: “She has touched the hearts of everyone she has met.

“This is evident from numerous thank you cards she used to receive from the patients she treated as well as hundreds of condolences we received praising her professionalism.”

He told the inquest that she had never suffered from any psychological problems or tried to harm herself.

“The two presenters have each told me on a number of occasions of their distress and sadness”

Rhys Holleran

The chief executive of Southern Cross Media Group, the parent company of 2Day FM which carried out the prank call, said it does not hold DJs Michael Christian or Ms Greig responsible for the broadcast.

In a statement Rhys Holleran admitted the station did not obtain consent to run the hoax call but that the segment was checked by legal staff ahead of it being aired.

He said four phone calls made to the hospital shortly after the prank were an attempt to seek permission but were ended by the recipient in seconds.

Mr Holleran said: “Southern Cross Radio takes full responsibility for the broadcast. It does not apportion blame to any of its announcers.”

He added that the company “deeply regrets” the tragedy and extended its “deepest sympathies” to the family and friends of Mrs Saldanha.

“All of our staff have been deeply affected,” he said. “The two presenters have each told me on a number of occasions of their distress and sadness.”





Readers' comments (6)

  • Just so sad, a needless death, poor poor woman.

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  • She must have had something wrong, some sort of problem, some kind of issue, that nobody knew about. She herself personally didn't reveal anything and had nothing to reproach herself with. The other nurse, the one who actually spoke to the hoaxers, did not have such a catastrophic reaction to this prank. Even the hospital managers didn't think it a disciplinary matter. This outcome could not possibly have been expected.

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  • desperately sad and need not have been so. it was not such a big deal although she obviously took it very seriously and must have seen it as a failing. maybe there were other underlying issues with her and maybe she was in fear of the consequences.

    just goes to show we do not have every aspect of our lives under our own control or just how we wish it to be. condolences to Ms. Saldanha's family.

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  • ‘She must have had something wrong, some sort of problem, some kind of issue, that nobody knew about.’
    I don’t think so. I see it often in staff who have been wrongfully suspended. The shame, the sense of failure when these people have very high standards, all contribute to the suicidal thoughts many people experience because of their shock and isolation.
    I so wish we were able to get this across to managers so that they stop using suspension unless there is substantiated evidence (not a personal vendetta by the complainant), real danger to patients or staff or the clinician, and absolutely no other possible way of dealing with a genuine situation. And some way of holding badly reacting managers and vindictive staff to account so that they know they are going to face some serious consequences for their destructive actions.
    I was so glad that the manager in Mrs Saldanah’s case was so supportive. Thank you.
    And people who are from a different ethnicity are often very aware of the negative effects of their mistakes compared to the mistakes of nationals – an extra very real pressure.
    So somehow may Mrs Saldanah not have died in vain.
    Julie Fagan, founder member of CAUSE – Campaign Against Unnecessary Suspensions and Exclusions UK

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  • Good information, Julie Fagan. I have been thinking of all those high-profile people who make really serious errors, with really serious consequences, and refuse to resign from their posts or even admit their mistakes, and was inclined to agree with Anonymous 12th September because what this nurse did was so trivial - it wasn't even she who gave any information to the hoaxers - and I confess I still struggle to understand. But your information does shed a bit of light on it.

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  • I think Julie Fagan says it like it is. A frontline nurse makes a minor error and is held to account for the underlying system failure in the hospital.

    When will the NHS start behaving like a responsible Business, in which Managers are accountable for ensuring that systems are as safe as possible.

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